Letter from the farm: 
Is it harvest time yet?

Lia Oren and Talia Schechet seed onions in the greenhouse at Adamah Farm in Falls Village, Conn., extending our region’s short growing season by producing seedlings ready to plant as the soil warms.

Janna Siller

Letter from the farm: Is it harvest time yet?

FALLS VILLAGE, Conn. — Early spring on a New England produce farm is like watching a pot come to a boil -— flower buds adorning tree limbs swell ever so slightly each day; overwintered spinach leaves expand almost imperceptibly over the course of a week; fall-planted garlic cloves sprout small green shoots up through mulched beds.

No matter how intently you watch, the pot does eventually boil and spring does reliably arrive. Unlike a pot on a hot stove though, you can’t simply turn the dial to max when impatience gets the better of you, and the signs of progress often come in fits and starts rather than a steady increase.

Seeds won’t sprout in chilly soil. If you plant seedlings on a warm day, they won’t survive the cold one that follows. Farmers get to know the preferences of our crops well, and we look for signs that the ground is ready for each one’s unique needs — when dandelions bloom, it usually means the soil is warm enough to plant potatoes; pea seeds can go in when daffodils and forsythia are in full display; the warmer season crops will go in when there is not longer a single frost in sight on the forecast.

On warm sunny days, customers ask us whether we’re harvesting yet and I don’t blame them — there is so much vibrance in the seventy-degree spring air. But the season keeps whipping around to days of rain with temperatures hovering around freezing, and we all try to find solace in the few crocuses adapted to these fickle conditions. Growing produce in a climate as seasonal as ours requires farmers to stay poised like a cat leaning into its haunches — ready for the moment when spring really gains momentum.

At Adamah Farm in Falls Village, Conn., we’ve been heating a greenhouse since March to start seedlings. Having big, healthy transplants to put in the ground when the weather settles is an important season extension method. It is a bit like time travel to go in there and see pepper plants putting on leaves and tomato seeds sprouting. The endeavor of coaxing them through this season’s volatility has required an unwavering belief that the pot will, eventually, boil.

We germinate seeds on heat mats while days of gray skies prevent the passive solar warmth that otherwise makes a greenhouse so valuable. When the power went out on Johnson Road two weeks ago, the crew spent a very exciting hour shuttling plants from the greenhouse into an onsite building with a generator through a starless evening of sleet and high wind. When our CSA members, who sign up for regular boxes of produce this season, are grilling eggplant for a July barbecue with coleslaw and fresh herbs, it will be thanks to our winter crew who cared so doggedly for the young plants.

Members of the winter crew at Adamah Farm, Imogen Lubin, Miki Benson, and Denean Ritchie, enjoy some signs of resilience through this season’s volatile weather — a leek that managed to survive the winter and a six-leaf clover!Janna Siller

Farmers in our region are bringing this spirit of resilience and nimble adaptation in responding to a changing climate. Here at Adamah, that means watching with curiosity as our fields emerge from winter a bit differently than most springs after a milder than average winter — ponds that area residents have skated on for generations remained unfrozen and there were some balmy February days that had us all in t-shirts.

Records from Cornell University’s Northeast Regional Climate Center echo what we’ve been experiencing in real time — the region had a warmer than average winter again, with average temperatures ranging up to 8 degrees warmer depending on location.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently updated its “Hardiness Zone Map,” the guidance growers use to understand which plants are well adapted to their climate. Our region shifted one zone warmer, and we are seeing the effects on our vegetable fields here in Falls Village.

Every fall, we plant cover crops at Adamah — plants that regenerate the soil over winter. We plant some that are meant to survive the winter and keep growing in spring to hold the soil in place, build life-giving biomass in the soil, and provide habitat for beneficial organisms on the farm. Others are plants not adapted to survive sustained cold, so they contribute their benefits in the early winter and then die back and become mulch for spring crops. This winter, many of those cover crops that were meant to “winter-kill” survived, and we’ve been recalibrating our field plans to adapt.

Staying agile enough to work within the constraints and opportunities provided by the seasons is part of what keeps farming exciting year to year. Whether they are milking cows, planting trees, or growing salad greens, your local farmers generally could do with a few less curve balls than we’ve had of late.

To learn more about Adamah Farm or join the vegetable CSA, a subscription program for fresh, organic produce, go to fvcsa.adamah.org.

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